Medical update: air bags yes! But don’t forget the seat belts – automobiles
Occupant restraints, such as seat belts and air bags, are highly effective in preventing death and injury from traffic collisions. The head is the part most likely to suffer serious damage in auto crashes, accounting for about half of all traffic deaths. Any measures that can prevent or lessen the brain damage will reduce the injury toll. In an auto crash, seat belts prevent ejection from a moving car and stop people going through the windshield as the vehicle comes to an abrupt halt. Seat belts also minimize injuries due to impact with the vehicle’s hard interior and, by keeping drivers behind the wheel, they ensure better control of the car. Seat belts also hold people in position for the protective cushioning, if there’s an air bag. At speeds under 25 mph, seat belts give adequate protection, but at higher speeds, air bags help to prevent the violent forces exerted on the neck and head in frontal crashes.
Air bags inflate on impact, increasing injury protection for front seat passengers. (Sensors under the hood pick up the impact and inflate the bag within milliseconds.) They are specifically designed to protect front-seat passengers in head-on (frontal) crashes, which account for most of the major traffic injuries. As standard equipment, air bags would reduce motor crash fatalities by an estimated 10-15 per cent over and above the 40 per cent injury-diminution provided by seat belts alone (if worn). Moreover air bags work without the need for passenger co-operation, their protection not contingent upon occupant compliance. Unlike seat belts – which may or may net be buckled up – air bags remain “at the ready,” automatically coming into play onx impact. The bad press about the few minor injuries reported from air bags (slight face burns and transient eye damage from chemicals released if the bag bursts) hardly detracts from their ability to prevent death and disability. After resisting air bags for years, more and more auto manufacturers are installing them. According to the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), “air bags are being installed in 15 per cent more models than in 1992; 48 per cent of new vehicles now feature them as standard equipment.” The CAA calls on government to make air bags mandatory in all new cars, vans and light trucks by the end of the decade. But Transport Canada has announced no plans to do so. And in the U.S., although Congress is pushing for mandatory air bags by 1997, it hasn’t yet become law. Auto experts warn about the mistaken tendency to stop wearing seat belts in cars with air bags. Air bags do not replace but must be used together with seat belts. While air bags protect the driver and front seat passenger in head-on crashes, they are no substitute for seat belts.
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